Monthly Archives: December 2016

Weekly Legislative Report Dec 9, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations/ Budget

Senators today will determine whether to pass a continuing resolution (CR) or force a temporary government shutdown.

The House easily passed the continuing resolution (H.R. 2028) Thursday by a vote of 326-96.  The measure would extend current funding levels for most federal agencies through April 28.  The government is currently operating on a similar CR (PL 114-223) that ends at midnight.

A summary of the CR and bill text are available here.

A dispute over expiring health insurance for more than 16,000 retired coal miners has angered the White House and Senate Democrats, who are considering blocking the spending bill.  They are joined by Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who said she is prepared to vote to block the stopgap unless the miners’ problem gets resolved.

With thousands of retired miners facing a lapse in health care at the end of this month, the CR would provide money to extend benefits through April.  But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) who is leading the threat, said a four-month extension of health care would be “inhumane” to worried miners who would get notices next month warning of an impending insurance cut-off.

Democrats also have registered other concerns about the continuing resolution.  The measure includes $170 million to help repair the contaminated water system of Flint, Michigan, but most of the money hinges on passage of a separate water projects bill (S. 612) that would authorize the work.  While the House cleared that bill Thursday, it has bogged down in the Senate over an unrelated provision concerning drought relief for California.  Democrats also object to a “Buy America” provision requiring the use of American-made material, a provision that they said needs to be strengthened.

We predict a stopgap funding bill will ultimately to win approval, however, Senators may need to work through the weekend—and potentially a weekend government shutdown — to get it done.

Defense

The Senate on Thursday voted 92-7 to pass the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943), sending the legislation to Obama’s desk.  The House voted last Friday to pass the measure.

Although the White House had threatened to veto the annual measure, many of the most contested provisions have been removed or modified and the President is expected to sign. 

Healthcare

On Wednesday, December 7th, the Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act in a 94 to 5 vote, and is now headed to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law.  The President will hold a signing ceremony for the bill on Tuesday, December 13.  The House passed the measure last Wednesday.

The Cures Act makes investments of $1 billion to address the opioid crisis, $1.8 billion in new resources for cancer research, $3 billion to build upon the major biomedical research initiatives such as the BRAIN and Precision Medicine Initiatives – which research and treat diseases like Alzheimer’s; there are also important steps to improve mental health and advances to improve the Food and Drug Administration’s drug development process.

More information about the Cures bill including bill text and summary materials is available here.

Trump Administration

Since last week’s update, the following Cabinet positions have been filled:

  • Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  • Andrew Puzder, Secretary of Labor
  • Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency
  • Linda McMahon, Small Business Administration
  • Retired General (USMC) John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security

Secretary positions that are still outstanding are: Secretary of the Interior – although Trump has reportedly chosen Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Secretary of State, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Secretary of Agriculture, and Secretary of Energy.  Cabinet-level officials still outstanding are: Director of the Office of Management and Budget, United States Trade Representative, and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Water Resources

The House on Thursday voted 360-61 to approve a water resources bill that would authorize nearly $11.7 billion for water infrastructure projects and $170 million to help Flint, Michigan repair its lead-tainted drinking water system.  House Democrats voiced objections to the bill and opponents in the Senate may have enough votes to block it. 

The Bill, entitled “Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation” or WIIN Act (S. 612) would authorize 30 new Army Corps of Engineers navigation, natural disaster management and ecosystem restoration projects and modifications to eight existing projects.  Previous versions were called the Water Resources Development Act (H.R. 5303 and S. 2848) and attracted bipartisan support and passed both chambers with wide margins in September, but several Senators are unhappy with recent changes in the bill that they consider anti-environmental and insufficiently pro-worker.

Supporters say the bill includes a number of worthy provisions and delivers needed spending on infrastructure.  House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) touted the approval of many water projects of national importance and the return of a water resources bill to a two-year cycle, which he said is a benefit to U.S. businesses. 

House Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) voted against the bill.  He backed it in the committee markup in the spring, but became an opponent when Republican leaders removed a provision allowing money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be spent without congressional appropriation.  The fund collects taxes based on goods imported and exported at U.S. ports, but it has a balance of $9 billion that hasn’t been appropriated on necessary projects, he said.

The water bill and the Flint aid still faces a potential hurdle in the Senate.  Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said Monday she would seek to block the bill because she objects to provisions on drought aid for California.

The 70-page provision was added to the bill Monday, the result of an agreement between House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that would relax Endangered Species Act protections to allow additional pumping, desalination and storage of water in drought-stricken areas of California.  West Coast lawmakers and others say they are worried about the environmental impact that could affect fisheries and related jobs.  Some senators have a second objection to the water bill: a provision that limits to FY17 a requirement that some projects authorized by the bill and receiving money from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund use U.S. made iron and steel.  The senators want no time limit on that provision.

A fact sheet on the bill is attached.

Washington Outlook

With a government shutdown looming, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told senators today to “take yes for an answer” and move forward on the continuing resolution that funds the government through April 28 so as to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight.

The House has rejected expanded benefits for coal miners that Senate Democrats want to re-negotiate on the stopgap bill (H.R. 2028).  The House passed the measure overwhelmingly Thursday by a 326-96 vote and it cannot be amended by the Senate without the House taking it up again.

Many House members have left town with the expectation that work is over for the year, although the chamber has adjourned only until Monday and is scheduled for what’s expected to be a pro-forma session.

As always, we will keep you apprised of relevant events.

Weekly Legislative Report Dec 2, 2016

J.R. Reskovac
Sarah Strup Herbert

Appropriations/ Budget

Wednesday, House and Senate Republicans said that a continuing resolution (CR) will most likely be extended to April 2017 or longer due to the Senate’s crowded schedule that will be full with confirmations of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet.  Senators are reportedly seeking a CR from the House that would run through April 28. 

House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) told reporters after the weekly GOP conference meeting that lawmakers haven’t decided but said “the implication was it’s probably going to be April,” when asked about the length of a continuing resolution.  He added that Republicans will again discuss the issue Friday.  Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said he sees the benefit of a longer stopgap that punts final fiscal 2017 spending decisions past March, given the Senate’s schedule.

News of a longer continuing resolution has raised alarm in the defense community, which is concerned there will be a delay in the start of new projects at a time of increased security concerns. 

One potential complication for the stopgap spending bill is funds for the Flint, Michigan for its lead-contaminated water crisis, which Democrats including have insisted should be addressed in the lame duck.

Ryan said that aid to Flint would get done through either a water resources authorization bill (H.R. 5303), his preference, or the CR.

Yesterday Ryan said he plans to bring a continuing resolution to the House floor “as soon as possible next week,” but negotiations with the Senate over the duration of the stopgap were ongoing.

Congressional Leadership

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Wednesday overcame a challenge from seven-term Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan to retain her position as House Minority Leader for the 115th Congress in a 134-63 vote.

Pelosi announced Friday that the Democratic Steering & Policy Committee approved Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Eric Swalwell of California as Co-Chairs, Jared Polis of Colorado as Vice Chair and Parliamentarian, and Barbara Lee of California as Vice Chair.  The Steering & Policy Committee also nominated the following Ranking Members for House Committees to be approved by the Democratic Caucus:

  • Appropriations: Nita Lowey (D-NY)
  • Energy and Commerce: Frank Pallone (D-NJ)
  • Financial Services: Maxine Waters (D-CA)
  • Ways and Means: Richard Neal (D-MA)

On Thursday, the House Republican Steering Committee approved the following recommendations for committee chairs in the 115th Congress:

  • Agriculture: Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX)
  • Appropriations: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)
  • Armed Services: Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX)
  • Budget: Rep. Tom Price (R-GA)
  • Education and the Workforce: Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)
  • Energy and Commerce: Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)
  • Financial Services: Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)
  • Foreign Affairs: Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA)
  • Homeland Security: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)
  • Judiciary: Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)
  • Natural Resources: Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT)
  • Oversight and Government Reform: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)
  • Science, Space, and Technology: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)
  • Small Business: Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH)
  • Transportation and Infrastructure: Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA)
  • Veterans’ Affairs: Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN)
  • Ways and Means: Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)

In addition, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has made the following committee chair appointments:

  • Administration: Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS)
  • Ethics: Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN)
  • Joint Economic Committee: Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH)
  • Intelligence: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)
  • Rules: Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)

These recommendations will be presented to the full House Republican Conference today for official ratification.

Defense

The House voted 375-34 this afternoon to pass this year’s annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The bill would authorize a total of $618.7 billion in spending, including $59.5 billion for a war fund known as the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account.  Another $8.3 billion from the OCO account — $3.2 billion more than Obama requested — would be used for base budget requirements such as a pay raise for troops and troop increases.  The troop pay raise would be 2.1 percent, above the president’s request for a 1.6 percent pay raise.

Democrats have criticized the use of OCO funds to raise defense spending as a tactic that skirts budget caps to avoid raising nondefense spending.  Despite their concern, most voted on Friday for the bill.

The White House has not said yet whether President Obama will veto the bill over the extra money.  Controversial policy provisions such as requiring women to register for the draft, a piece on religious discrimination in government contracting, and the sage-grouse amendment have been eliminated from the final version.

The bill would also keep the status quo on restrictions on transfers out of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, cap the size of the National Security Council at 200 staffers and reauthorize a program to give visas to Afghans who assisted U.S. troops and diplomats during the Afghanistan War.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week.

Healthcare

The House on Wednesday voted 392-26 to pass a package of biomedical innovation bills intended to advance the development of new drugs and medical devices.  The legislation also includes changes to the U.S. mental health care system and several Medicare-related provisions, among other measures.

The House first passed the bill, known as 21st Century Cures (H.R. 34), last year, but it was delayed in the Senate over disagreements on mandatory funding for the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, among other things.

The new legislation is significantly different in several other ways from the package (H.R. 6) the House passed last year.  Unlike the previous version, the new legislation contains no drug exclusivity provisions protecting drugmakers’ patents for longer periods.  While the previous bill would have provided $8.75 billion in funding for the NIH over five years, updated language would provide $4.8 billion over a decade for specified projects within the agency, including President Barack Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative and cancer “moonshot” program.  Cures would also provide $500 million over nine years for the FDA and $1 billion in funding over two years to combat the opioid epidemic to the states with the highest need.

Offsets for the bill would come mainly from the federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve and a fund created in the 2010 health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) to promote disease prevention and public health.

The legislation next heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.  The White House on Tuesday said it “strongly supports” the bill.  Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said the chamber would vote on the package early next week.

Trump Administration

Since November 8, the following people have been chosen by President-elect Donald Trump for top Cabinet positions:

  • Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Attorney General
  • Retired Gen. James Mattis, Secretary of Defense
  • Betsy DeVos, Secretary of the Department of Education
  • Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC), U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation
  • Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury 
  • Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce

Still Outstanding are: Secretary of State (Trump is believed to be considering Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Bob Corker, Mitt Romney, and David Petraeus); Secretary of Homeland Security (Michael McCaul and David Clarke are contenders); Secretary of the Interior (Sarah Palin and Mary Fallin are reportedly in the running); Secretary of Veterans Affairs; Secretary of Agriculture; Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (Ben Carson has been offered the position but has not accepted); Secretary of Labor; and Secretary of Energy.

Washington Outlook

Next week in Congress, Speaker Ryan will bring a continuing resolution to fund the government to the floor.  In the Senate, members will vote on the 21st Century Cures package and NDAA bill. 

Today, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that the House wrap up work on the continuing resolution and Water Resources Development Act (H.R. 5303) by next Thursday.  The current CR expires on Friday, December 9th.

House and Senate calendars for 2017 (115th Congress, 1st Session) were released this week.  Please find combined calendar prepared by Capitol Decisions by clicking here.